James Myburgh writes on the slippery and misleading ANC (and now EFF) claims that the chant was never meant literally
On Thursday last week Judge Edwin Molahlehi of the Gauteng Division of the High Court handed down judgment in the Equality Court case brought by AfriForum against Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters continued chanting of ‘kill’ or ‘kiss the Boer’. In his ruling Molahlehi ruled that the “impugned” song did not constitute “hate speech”.
Molahlehi made this ruling in large part on Malema’s testimony that the chant was not and had never been meant “literally”, something supported by the expert witness testimony of the academic Liz Gunner.
During the trial the EFF’s defence counsel, Advocate Mfesane Ka-Siboto, had produced archival video clips in court of Peter Mokaba and Thabo Mbeki proclaiming the fundamental harmlessness of such slogans.
Mokaba, as ANC Youth League leader, had attracted notoriety in April 1993 by chanting, in English, “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer” after the assassination of Chris Hani. The ANCYL had then held a press conference at the end of April 1993 where the League had responded to the public outcry his chants had occasioned.
In this press conference it was pointed out that there were numerous Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) freedom songs, in the vernacular, calling for the killing, assaulting, or shooting of “the Boers”. For instance, the song Hamba Kahle Mkhonto, as sang at Hani’s funeral, had contained the line that “we, the members of Umkhonto are determined to kill these Boers”. For as long as these had been sung through the early 1990s – in languages the whites did not understand – they had not provoked controversy.
In his comments, a video clip of which was played to the court, Mokaba argued that the liberation movement’s conception of the ‘Boer’ had always “meant ‘the enemy as a system of white supremacy’ and has never meant any individual on the basis of this or that colour. And even as we chanted these slogans during the armed struggle, they have never driven us to the houses of the whites or to the farmers, as farmers, as individuals, to kill them.”
Advocate Ka-Siboto also played a video from ANC Deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 12 May 1997 where he was asked about amnesty applicants, currently in jail, who had cited the "Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer" chant as political justification for their acts. Mbeki responded by saying that it was just a “chant”. “There are different chants, and they will be saying different things, different things about the struggle. This particular one was picked out, as I say, and interpreted from outside of African culture and presented as a political statement it never was.”
In a follow up question Mbeki was asked by the commission “Are you saying there is no meaning to be read in the words at all, that it's simply a chant?” To which he replied, “Absolutely no ANC policy to kill farmers, absolutely none.”
When asked to elucidate on these videos Malema commented that during the period of the armed struggle (so before its formal suspension in August 1990) well-armed MK units could have invaded the houses of the Boers if they had wanted to “but because they understood that it is not meant in a literal sense, they have never engaged in these types of activities. Their political foundation and political consciousness and what they wanted to achieve made them to understand that carrying of a gun and singing of the song does not necessarily mean you must go into peoples’ houses. Our leaders were not criminals. They were political leaders. They were well-armed, ready to shoot and kill. But always believed that there should be an engagement to avoid a possible war.”
The argument, as put by Adv. Ka-Siboto to Malema, was that if even under the system of apartheid oppression these chants had not led to the targeting and killing of farmers, when people would have been at their angriest, what would have changed now?
Malema said he “absolutely” agreed with this, adding:
“The MK’s philosophy has always been that we do not target soft targets. It has always been a principle. Only when you find yourself at a compromised position where you had to now shoot to kill what could appear as a soft target. But when MK infiltrated the country at that time instructions have always been very clear. We do not attack soft targets. And the farm, farmers as individuals would have been the easiest and the soft target. Because when you enter the country, you go through the farms. There has never been massive killing of farmers by Umkhonto We Sizwe or APLA or any of the armed wing of the struggle because they understood that ours is not individuals. It is but a system of apartheid.”
There is a great deal in what is being claimed over the years by Mokaba, Mbeki, and now Malema that is questionable and misleading.
It is true to say that in exile the ANC and MK described the “enemy” as “the Boers” or "ibhunu". This term covered the ANC’s Afrikaner adversaries in the state apparatus and could also be extended to include black policemen. It does not follow however that actual white farmers were seen as somehow falling outside this category.
It was always the intention of the ANC/SACP (and Pan Africanist Congress) to liquidate white farmers “as a class,” in one way or another, so that the land could be “shared among those who work it”.
A revealing precursor of the ANC’s ultimate goals in this regard was provided by the liberation movement’s underground manoeuvrings in the Transkei in the years leading up to the homeland’s formal ‘independence’ in 1976. In a Business Day column in March 2020 Jonny Steinberg noted how the founding premier Kaiser Matanzima, who was driven by deep racial animus even as he cooperated with the National Party’s policy of separate development, had built up his movement on the platform of throwing the whites out of the soon-to-be established independent homeland.
“The magistrates, the prosecutors, the clerks in the government bureaucracy; the traders, the smattering of white farmers — all must go,” Matanzima said.
What Steinberg did not mention was that this economically and institutionally disastrous project of “narrow black nationalism” enjoyed the covert support of the ANC in exile at the time.
In the document “Suggested Tactics and strategy in the Mobilisation and Organisation of Africans for the Revolution” submitted to an ANC National Executive Committee meeting in August 1971, Chris Hani called for the “systematic infiltration” of the Bantustan authorities “by disciplined and unknown cadres who must shun publicity”. Among the demands that they ought to then articulate were the “confiscation of White farmers’ land” and the “Africanisation of the civil service, police force and education departments”.
A couple of years later Hani, who was apparently in Moscow at the time, would write a letter to Ray Simons in Lusaka, Zambia, in which he instructed that one “Mildred” – apparently an underground operative in the homeland – should “set up people to infiltrate heavily both parties in the Transkei in order to put forward [the] Congress programme”. The first of the slogans that must then be adopted was “Land to the people i.e., land occupied by the white farmers.”
In his 1971 document Hani stated that the explosive “slogan of ‘seize the land' must be used by the revolutionary movement”. And indeed, it was, most notably during the ANC-inspired and directed national insurrection against white rule in the mid-1980s.
As previously described, the 1984 January 8th statement of the ANC National Executive Committee, which reiterated the call for South Africa to be made ungovernable, accused white commercial farmers of “the most merciless brutalisation of our people”, stated that one of the “fundamental elements for the solution of the problems facing our people in the countryside is the resolution of the land question in favour of the tillers”, and called for the mobilisation and organisation of the rural masses around the question of land so that they would “be able to respond resolutely to the call: ‘Seize the land!’”
This was a call repeated the following year in the ANC NEC’s 1985 January 8th statement. This described the “dispossession of our people of the land that is theirs” as “one of the most burning national grievances” with “millions of our people in the rural areas …brutally exploited as agricultural workers on farms carved out of their ancestral lands”.
“The land question”, it stated, “must be resolved, if needs be, the hard way.” It then called for rural masses to be organised and mobilised and provided with “the organisational and political tools to defend themselves against exploitation and to assert their right to the land. As we said last year, we must place the perspective of seizing the land from the dispossessor in front of our rural masses and educate them to understand that this is a task that calls for dedication, determination, and sacrifice.”
On 25th April 1985 the ANC NEC issued its call to insurrection, which stated:
“We call on our people, and more especially our fighting youth, in every black community, school and university to find ways of organising themselves into small mobile units which will protect the people against anti-social elements and act in an organised way in both black and white areas against the enemy and its agents. Every black area must become a ‘no-go area’ for any isolated individual or pockets of the enemy's police or armed personnel. The people must find ways to obtain arms by whatever means from the enemies and from any other source.”
The ANC also infiltrated several hundred MK cadres into South Africa at this time, through Operation Zikomo, who were meant “to form a kind of officer class for township militants, providing them with leadership and training.” Although this tended to be lost within the noise, at the time, farmers were an early target of the self-formed-MK-guided units set up in response to the ANC’s call for insurrection.
The approach of the ANC in terms of the prioritisation of enemy targets was informed by its People’s War strategy. This had been adopted by the SACP Central Committee for the ANC in June 1970 at a meeting in Moscow, and had been later refined and developed following a study tour by an ANC National Executive Delegation to communist Vietnam in October 1978.
It was noted in 1967 by one the shrewdest observers of communism in Southeast Asia, that the main contribution the Vietminh/Vietcong had made to the theory of guerrilla war had “consisted of the destruction of the government administrative network” in French Indochina and then South Vietnam “by the simple expediency of assassinating village officials. In this way, they achieved the security which distance and remoteness provided to Mao’s guerrillas [in China]. Only then could they carry out Mao Zedong’s precept to ‘make the enemy blind and deaf and drive his commanders to distraction by creating confusion in their minds’.”
The main initial targets for the ANC/MK in 1985 were, in line with this approach, all representatives of state authority within the black urban areas – black councillors, security branch policemen, ordinary policemen, government officials, and informers – who were all to be “eliminated” by any means available. In hundreds of cases between 1985 and 1986 these black “boers” had their homes petrol bombed and/or were burnt alive by the "fighting youth" in the townships.
Once the ANC's supporters had successfully made many urban township areas ungovernable – and could for a while operate freely within them - the liberation movement sought to use these as a stronghold from which to take the battle into the white areas, and particularly the white farming areas.
Thus, at the ANC’s Kabwe conference in mid-June 1985 the Commission on Strategy and Tactics recommended that, where possible, organised units be infiltrated into the rural areas to “make contact with and train the local population for action against the enemy. We must undertake a sustained drive to clear the white farms and harass the enemy with mine warfare.” The resolution of the conference on the “rural masses” stated that the organisers from the urban areas needed to reach politically isolated farm workers and encourage them to “sabotage and destroy the economy of the farms – especially the border farms.” Armed propaganda “must continue” and “We should revive areas with traditions of resistance and revolt. We should destroy border farms.”
These intended actions against farmers by the ANC and MK would take direct and indirect forms. In the former category were the laying of landmines on farm roads, particularly in the border areas, and an apparent effort to assassinate farmers selectively by MK operatives. The role of the MK cadre was often though not to carry out armed actions himself but to link up with, train, and direct the fighting youth to attack these and other enemies. The resultant crimes, carried out using stolen civilian weapons, could not easily be pinned back on the ANC/MK in the same way that a direct attack on a civilian target by a trained MK guerrilla, using Soviet supplied weaponry, could be.
The ANC also issued generalised calls over Radio Freedom for farms to be sabotaged, for farmers to be robbed of their weapons, and for farm workers to take the guns of farmers and to turn them on their exploitative bosses. Although the farmers were seen as a racial enemy – the exploitative alien occupiers of stolen land – their targeting was rationalised, in a period where the ANC claimed to be respecting the Geneva Convention, on the basis that “they” were integrated into the commando system and were therefore a legitimate “hard” military rather than a “soft” civilian target.
In its January 8th statement of 1986 the ANC issued the instruction “to Umkhonto we Sizwe and to the masses of our people is attack, advance, give the enemy no quarter – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” This again called for an uprising to be orchestrated in the rural areas “against the blood-sucking white soldier-farmers” in which the “landless masses” would seize “the land which rightfully belongs to them.”
Thus, as the ANC sought to take ungovernability and the armed struggle into the white areas from 1985 onwards, farmers were regarded as a legitimate target of attack. In comments broadcast on Radio Freedom in early 1986 Chris Hani, then ANC Military Commissar, said that as MK sought to gear up activity in white areas, and to stretch the areas of ungovernability to rural areas, it was not going to embark on direct mayhem against white civilians, though white civilian deaths were inevitable.
But among the “enemy personnel” he listed, who were going to be directly targeted, were “those farmers and other civilians who are part of the defence force in our country, of the military, paramilitary and reserves.”
In the same broadcast Hani encouraged the youth of school going age, fighting the forces of state authority in the townships, to arm themselves, not just by trying to seize this from policemen or soldiers but from white civilians as well, “every white home has got a weapon, every farm has got a weapon”. This was a call Hani repeated the following month, “There are arms everywhere in that country. The white community is a militarised community. Every shopkeeper, every dealer, every farmer has got weapons. The people must grab those weapons and use them against the enemy.”
In other statements in late 1986 and 1987 Hani continued to state that while it was not the ANC’s policy to “deal with white civilians” they did want to deal with “enemy personnel” and in this category he included “farms and farmers” alongside the police, army, state administration and economic installations.
Ultimately, though a number of brutal killings resulted, the ANC and MK were not able to sustain effectively and extend the armed struggle in the rural areas at the time. As the PW Botha regime used the army and police to reassert state authority in the townships under the state of emergency MK, which was heavily infiltrated by state security agents and operating under huge logistical constraints, reverted to prioritising the elimination of all black collaborators.
Covert elements in the security services, for their part, sought to keep political violence ‘black-on-black’ by supporting and arming the ANC’s traditionalist adversaries within the black community.
MK’s landmine campaign against farmers, which had resulted in the deaths of 19 civilians, black and white, and a single member of the security services, was also suspended in late 1987. This was after the prospect of imminent regime collapse and the armed seizure of power had receded, and at a time when secret discussions around a negotiated political settlement in South Africa were picking up steam. Concurrently though the ANC leadership also started laying the organisational groundwork for a second and hopefully more successful attempt at national insurrection through Operation Vula.
Farm murders became a recognised phenomenon in South Africa from the time of the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990, even though the ANC formally suspended the armed struggle later that same year. It is certainly possible to track, through contemporaneous press reporting on particular farm murders, and later amnesty decisions of the TRC in which a political motive was disclosed, a link between political developments and the escalation of farm attacks and resultant killings through the early 1990s.
Thus, as the repressive security measures were lifted by President FW de Klerk in 1990 there was an upsurge in political unrest and also in attacks on farms, particularly in the Natal midlands and the border areas of Eastern Cape. In some cases, convicted UDF/ANC members would later apply for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for such crimes.
In the early 1990s the PAC leadership, for its part, would deny that its chant of “one settler one bullet” was meant literally. It was “just a slogan” they claimed. It would however later be confirmed by the amnesty process of the TRC that in 1991 the PAC’s armed wing APLA had launched a campaign of murderous racial violence, in which white farmers – particularly within areas in striking distance of the Transkei – were a high priority target.
Farmers were regarded by APLA too as a ‘military’ not civilian target. This campaign ran along similar tracks to those originally laid out by the ANC and MK in the mid-1980s.
The 6th volume of the TRC report, which dealt with the work of the amnesty committee, reported that “the Committee received a total of twenty-seven applications from PAC and APLA members for attacks on farms, all committed between 1990 and 1993. A total of twelve people were killed and thirteen injured in these attacks. The Amnesty Committee granted all but four of the applications.”
The TRC report also stated that the Committee had “heard testimony that, during 1991, the PAC and APLA launched their ‘Operation Great Storm’, in terms of which APLA operatives were instructed to attack and to instil fear in farmers. The applicants testified that the purpose was to drive the white farming community from their farms in order ‘to get the land back’.”
The amnesty application from APLA did not cover the entirety of their operations against farmers, merely those cases where the perpetrators had been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for them. According to South African Police estimates cited by the Goldstone commission in a March 1993 report APLA had had approximately 120 members active in South Africa at the time who had undergone military training abroad, and an unknown number of recruits trained locally.
APLA’s chief political commissar Mohato Dan Mofokeng (alias ‘Romero Daniels’) – later a Major General in South African Defence Force - told the press in Windhoek in June 1993 that his organisation had already carried out 120 missions in South Africa that year, 80 of which had been in the rural areas. That APLA was able to carry out so many attacks in this period reflected the FW de Klerk government’s loss of control over the security situation in the country. The PAC for its part only formally called off the armed struggle in January 1994.
There were also a number of cases where still imprisoned MK members heading so-called Self-Defence Units applied and received amnesty for attacks and killings on farms in the 1991 to 1993 period. Because the ANC for its part had disclaimed any official policy of attacking farmers in the early 1990s, though not for the 1980s, alternative political motives had to be presented.
In the case of the shooting and killing of Mr André de Villiers outside his farmhouse in Addo, Port Elizabeth, on 17th August 1992, the amnesty committee granted amnesty to the applicant, a member of MK, on the basis that he was acting on the instructions of Chris Hani around the establishment of SDUs and “general instructions to obtain arms inter alia from the farmers”.
Although these alternative motives were not necessarily convincing, they were readily accepted by the TRC’s amnesty committee if a formal link to the ANC/MK could be proven by the perpetrator. Again, such applications generally only related to those cases where the cases had been solved, and the perpetrators were still marooned in prison.
As can be seen from this history the line presented by Mokaba in 1993, Mbeki in 1997, and Malema this year, is slippery and disingenuous. At the time then that MK soldiers were being taught songs and chants in exile in the 1980s calling for the shooting and killing of ‘the Boers’, it was ANC policy for white farmers to be targeted by MK, self-organised mobile units of fighting youth, and ‘the people’ as a whole.
In this period MK leaders like Chris Hani also repeatedly incited the movement’s fighting youth to arm themselves by going into the houses of white people, and particularly farmers, and grab the weapons allegedly contained therein. This was not a direct call to kill (dolus directus), but rather to rob such individuals of their weapons; but in effect this was always going to be something of a distinction without a difference, because murder (dolus eventualis) would have been the inevitable result in a significant proportion of cases.
While MK cadres themselves may have been generally instructed to maintain a rough distinction between “hard” military and “soft” civilian targets in their operations, as Malema claimed, farmers were clearly defined as a “military” and so legitimate enemy target.
That the killing of farmers was not “massive” in the 1985 to 1987 period reflected MK’s failure, as Joe Modise later put it in an April 1990 review of the armed struggle, to “gain a foothold in the rural areas” and to involve “workers and the peasants in armed actions in sufficient numbers”.
If attacks by MK on farms and farmers were later de-prioritised – after this initial effort to “clean out the countryside of the racist farmers” had been thwarted by the state security forces – this was for short term tactical and political reasons.
The ANC remained ideologically committed to the resolution of the “land question”, over the medium to long term. After the ANC had suspended the armed struggle there continued to be several politically inspired farm attacks by MK/SDU members.
The situation regarding APLA in the early 1990s is clearer still. It deliberately targeted white farmers and carried out numerous murderous attacks against them. One can debate meanwhile whether this constituted “massive killing” but, if not, this was certainly not for a lack of trying.
This notion then that these songs or chants were not meant “literally” by those who composed and first sung and chanted them is thus simply unsupportable historically.
 Goh, Keng Swee. The Economics of Modernization. Marshall Cavendish Editions. Kindle Edition.
 “APLA claims 90 security force men killed in ‘93”, The Citizen, 18 June 1993.